Singapore-born percussionist Lee Yu Ru (Yuru) has had quite a musical adventure. Having started his musical education since the age of 4 through the piano, Yuru proceeded to enroll in the newly established School of the Arts, Singapore (SOTA) in 2008 with a specialization in piano performance; eventually making the switch to Percussion in 2011. He went on to clinch 1st place in the National Chinese Music Competition 2012, under the percussion ensemble category, marking his explosive start into percussion. His hunger for all things percussion grew, thus beginning his foray into orchestral and western classical percussion in 2016, leading him to enroll in the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music in 2017.
An extremely versatile and adaptive performer, Yuru is often found freelancing across diverse orchestras and ensembles ranging from the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Metropolitan Festival Orchestra, Orchestra of the Music Makers, YST Orchestral Institute to Dingyi Music Company, and the Asian-Cultural Symphony Orchestra. Highlights of his time at YST include appearing as the percussion soloist for the Conservatory’s tour to Korea, Intersections (2019), performing Dr Chen Zhangyi’s triple concerto《三人行》, as well as performing in musical comedy duo Igudesman and Joo’s UPBEAT (2018) production, alongside being part of the LEAD Orchestra project (2022) in Helsinki, Finland. Not forgetting tuba virtuoso Øystein Baadsvik’s Evolution in Tubistry (2018), and multiple Beethoven Im Garten concerts, under the baton of Singapore’s wunderkind conductor, Wong Kah Chun.
Yuru is currently pursuing his Master of Music in Percussion (Performance) under the tutelage of Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s Principal Percussionist, Jonathan Fox. He can be heard on YouTube, under the YST Orchestra Institute as well as OpusNovus, appearing as soloist and percussionist. As of 2022, he has also joined Morse Percussion, a Singapore-based contemporary percussion ensemble, performing in their latest productions A:LIVE and Reich and Cage, which was touted to be “a force for new music to be reckoned with” by Dr Chang Tou Liang. In addition, Yuru can be found on Spotify, appearing as a session musician for various Singaporean artists such as instrumental math-rock band Hauste, on keys, glockenspiel and percussion, for their albums Leavings (2018) and Patterns (2020), as well as Bennett Bay, in his albums Compass (2017) and In Memory Of (2018).
Tell us about yourself, and what motivated you to become a percussionist?
Hello everyone, my name is Yuru, and I am currently a final year Masters’ student studying classical percussion performance at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (YSTCM).
Initially I was a pianist, which led me to be enrolled in SOTA in 2008. During my time there, I was exposed to Chinese percussion through the Chinese percussion chamber group helmed by Mr Quek Ling Kiong. I eventually made the switch from piano to Chinese percussion when I was 17, under the tutelage of Miss Cheryl Ong, as I ironically liked playing the drums more than piano! I’ve been delving into this rabbit hole ever since, eventually starting western classical percussion when I was 20 under Mr Ramu Thiruyanam.
I personally find it captivating that a single percussion instrument can add so much color to a musical texture! Be it a single triangle note, crashing of cymbals, or through the warm resonances of a timpani roll, there’s so much to be explored, and what better way to do it than to become a percussionist that is able to learn and play all of these wonderful instruments!
What made you want to pursue music as a career?
Funnily enough, even though I started learning the piano at the age of 4, it all began when I was captivated by the loading screen of “Final Fantasy X” during the PlayStation 2 era. As “To Zarnakand” played in the background, I was so enthralled that I immediately went to practice on the piano, to try and transcribe it on the spot! It was the first time I’ve willingly (haha) wanted to practice, and I was faced with the bitter reality that certain piano transcriptions were out of my league. This motivated me to want to get better at the piano, which led to me enrolling in SOTA.
The greatest impetus was when I was at Singapore Management University for my first semester right out of finishing my National Service. I remember feeling uneasy and unfulfilled as I was spending my time in SMU, and it didn’t help that every time I was in a seminar or lecture, I would always be looking forward to going back to SOTA (since it’s right next door) to either practice or to help out the SOTA Percussion Ensembles! In fact, it was after a lot of consideration that I decided to take a leap of faith and took a Leave of Absence from SMU for one semester to audition for YST, and the rest is history from here!
Coming from a Chinese music background, would you say that those experiences helped you in your switch to Western classical percussion? What were some challenges you had to face, if any?
The techniques required from Chinese percussion are, to a certain extent, transferable to Western Classical percussion, especially with regards to handling sticks. However, due to how broad percussion music can be, be it across musical cultures, or genres, there will always be challenges with learning the appropriate technique(s) across different instruments and sometimes these techniques aren’t transferable. This means that I’ll be starting from scratch, or level 0, as I would like to call it! I would always enjoy these types of challenges as it meant that there’s more things to learn about this wonderful art form, and learning about them helped polish my craft ever so slightly for the better.
Having a prior musical background, especially with music theory and piano, definitely gave me an advantage with mallet percussion as the knowledge from both allowed me to get acclimated to the many mallet percussion instruments faster!
How would you describe the 4 years in school? In what ways do you feel that you have grown as a musician?
My 4 years at YST has been an eye-opening experience, and I always wished I had more of it even though I’m approaching the end of my studies! I feel that across the years, I’ve matured not only through the development of my technique, but also through my interactions with people and learning how to manage my personal expectations as well.
The environment at YST has provided me with a safe space to push my boundaries without fear of failure. I’m very grateful for the opportunities that YST has given me, as they have given me the confidence to step into any programme, be it as a soloist, performing in an orchestra, navigating contemporary works or as a collaborator in multi-disciplinary works.
Do you have a practice routine? If so, could you briefly talk about it.
My practice routine normally depends on what needs to be done within the month. Generally before I begin to practice, I will always go through the following steps. I would also plan out a strict practice plan to be accomplished for any practice session; some details include:
- Score Study – practicing away from the instrument, cues, pre-emptive observations
- What instruments do I need – what do I need to warm up on
- Will I employ Slow Practice (is it a learning session) or ROAM practice (coined by Rob Knopper, to learn potential stickings/roll speeds)
- Is there a section that has issues to be addressed
- Actually practicing a section, diving into the smallest of details for 15-30 mins per small section
- Post practice evaluation: Did I achieve my practice goal(s) for the session, if yes/no, reflect on why it went well/not go so well.
- Rest. This is absolutely important. I normally combine this and step 6.
- Repeat for the next section/next piece
I used to believe that playing through my music would constitute practicing, however this has changed drastically over the years as my practice strategies developed till its present iteration; by breaking things down into smaller, attainable chunks and being able to consistently execute on demand! Having a detailed practice plan and the drive to delve into the smallest of details over and over again allows for a better use of my time in the practice room, especially since I do not have the luxury of having the physical instruments at home.
Whenever I can, I turn my focus back towards my fundamentals, going towards methodology books such as George Lawrence Stone’s “Stick Control” (an amazing book for snare fundamentals), Leigh Howard Stevens’ “Method of Movement” for mallet technique, Saul Goodman’s “Method for Timpani”, and Todd Meehan’s “Method for Triangle and Tambourine.”
What are your favourite artists or ensembles? Do you have a playlist or repertoire that you listen to often?
Oh boy, this is a can of worms!! My favourite artists come from anime/video game music, as my love for music stems from them in the first place 🙂
From Video games:
- Nobuo Uematsu (general Final Fantasy)
- Masayoshi Soken (FFXIV)
- Masashi Hamauzu (FFXIII, FFVII-R)
- Hitoshi Sakimoto (FFXII)
- Yoko Shinomura (FFXV, Kingdom Hearts Franchise)
- Keiichi Okabe (Tekken, Nier Franchise)
- Shoji Meguro (Persona 5, Persona Franchise)
- Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity Composition Team
- Xenoblade Chronicles (Something that I’m getting into)
- Motoi Sakuraba (Tales of Xillia, Tales of Xillia 2)
- Casey Edwards (Devil May Cry 5)
- Mick Gordon (DOOM)
- Hiroyuki Sawano (Guilty Crown, Seven Deadly Sins, Gundam Unicorn, Thunderbolt Fantasy, Aldnoah Zero, Attack on Titan etc)
- Yuki Hayashi (Boku no Hero Academia, Haikyuu!)
- Soundtrack from “Belle (2021)” – A must listen
- Yuki Kajiura (Mai-Hime, Gundam Series, Sword Art Online)
- Junichi Matsumoto (The Ancient Magus Bride)
- Jyocho (JP)
- My best friend Bennett Bay (SG)
- FictionJunction/Kalafina (JP)
- Supercell (JP)
- Dream Theater (USA)
During your studies, you were also freelancing with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra of the Music Makers, Morse Percussion, and many other groups. What do you think about these opportunities? Are they instrumental to your professional development?
These opportunities were priceless in my development as a musician and as a human being! I’m very fortunate to have these opportunities to both perform as well as network in Singapore’s music industry. It is through these opportunities that my own resilience and mettle as a musician is tested, and I relish these types of challenges as I always seek to perform to the best of my ability regardless of whether I’m performing in an orchestra as section percussion, as a chamber musician in Morse, or as a session musician in a recording setting.
These opportunities helped build my confidence and consistency as a performer as they provided me with outlets to showcase the fruits of my training and to learn from my peers whilst at it too. Without them, I wouldn’t be half the musician I am today.
Why did you continue to pursue your Masters after completing your Bachelors? Were there any influences?
A famous quote from Aristotle states that “The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.” This feeling intensified as I was approaching the end of my bachelors, as the more I learnt about classical percussion, the more I realized I was lacking in my knowledge and understanding. On top of that, it was a year where COVID-19 regulations were being adjusted left and right without any hint of international regulations being relaxed any time soon. Thus the decision was made to continue my masters at YST as it was the best option in those circumstances. It allowed me to stay in Singapore while benefiting from having the facilities to practice and the opportunities that come along with being a Masters student at the conservatory, to which I’m grateful for.
You are currently in the last semester of your Masters. What are some thoughts about entering the professional world?
Stepping into the professional world might seem daunting, but I do feel that the work ethic I’ve established over the years will serve me well. I’ve had a taste of the professional world through freelancing with many ensembles and orchestras over the years, and I’m hungry for more to come!
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
My dream is to be a musician that’s involved in a video game franchise like Final Fantasy! It would be amazing if this comes to fruition in 5 years.
But no matter what, I’ll still be following my passion for percussion, pushing myself to become a better musician and person compared to yesterday. I have plans to audition for orchestras to be an orchestral musician, however I’ll be wherever my craft leads me to, be it as a teacher, freelancer or chamber musician!
A contributing editor at TBP.